CPJ should protect Philippine press from US media’s bias and incompetence

THE following is a letter I emailed yesterday to Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia correspondent of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in reaction to his recent blog entitled, “Rappler-CIA plot claim is attempt to cut funding, Philippine journalists say.”

Dear Shawn,
I was surprised that in in your strident tirade against the present administration posted as a blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists, you referred to me as “ex-government spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao.”

That would be as if a current news article referred to ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos as “former Bill Clinton spokesman.” For chrissakes, I was the spokesman and then chief of staff of President Arroyo over 15 years ago!

You should know better as I was your colleague at the Far Eastern Economic Review, where I worked as a correspondent and then Manila Bureau Chief for 10 years. You even visited Manila once and we had drinks with my close friend, the late Rodney Tasker, who recruited you to the Review straight from college in Ohio.

You refer to me as such because that obviously helps your false narrative that the present government is out to suppress media.

Hiatus
Being a “government spokesman” was a brief hiatus in my career in journalism that I am proud of. I was even the main founder in 1989 of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which over the years has sadly deteriorated as a venue for spreading American neocons’ views in this country, especially its loathing for President Duterte

I am the only recipient of all four of the most prestigious awards given to Philippine journalists, among them Catholic Mass Media Awards for 1983, the TOYM award as the most outstanding print journalist for 1992, the1991 Mitsubishi Foundation Best Asian Journalist, and 1988 fellow of Harvard’s Neiman Foundation.

I report at some length my background to emphasize that the criticisms against Rappler, PCIJ, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and Vera Files aren’t a government plot, but undertaken by veteran nationalist journalists — such as Yen Makabenta whom you also lambast — with distinguished careers.

I’ve devoted my life to Philippine journalism and I won’t let it be used by some foreign power, which in this case is obviously the US, whose Deep State loathes Duterte for his “rebalancing” of our foreign policy, putting America and China on the same footing. I certainly won’t allow my country to be painted black by an American, Maria Ressa, who’d just return to her New York suburban house if things don’t work out well for her here.

Why would the US State Department provide funding to the PCIJ and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility for over 11 years? Because people of so diverse worldviews like Madeline Albright, Collin Powell, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Mike Pompeo share the same passion for developing journalism in the Third World?

Mission
The mission here in this country of Rappler, PCIJ, CMFR and Vera Files is quite obvious from the fact that they have focused their resources on the issue of “human rights abuses,” the same issue that the US has been using for two decades now used to push for “regime changes” in Third World countries all over the world. The aim to topple Duterte has become urgent for the US as he has torpedoed its plot to drive a wedge between the Asean countries and China, and has drawn the country from the US to the new superpower.

It was I, not some government plotter, who exposed in a series of columns back in 2016 that Rappler was surviving because of its $2-million funding from Omidyar Network and North Base Media.

It didn’t even need investigative journalism work since Rappler’s Ressa who never read the Constitution boasted about getting such huge funding. It is to Duterte’s credit that he didn’t stop the Securities and Exchange Commission (the agency that determines if firms violate the foreign-funding constitutional restrictions) from investigating Rappler, even if it would risk — as it did — being accused of suppressing the press.

This is the first time ever in our nation’s history that foreigners are in media firms, since this is categorically banned by the Constitution, in its 1935, 1973 and 1986 versions. The PCIJ and Rappler took advantage of the then questionable issue of whether a purely web-based media outfit was covered by such a ban. The Securities and Exchange Commission has since ruled that they are.

I have been a nationalist all my life, and I took on bigger violations of our Constitution such as the Indonesian Salim’s control of public utilities in the country way beyond the Constitution’s 40-percent limit.

Passion
It is because of this same passion that I took a special interest in Rappler’s gross violation of the Constitution’s nationalist provisions.

From Rappler, I investigated PCIJ, CMFR, Rappler and Vera Files, and discovered the shocking fact that they had been getting money — for more than 10 years in the case of the first two outfits — from the US State Department, and had kept this secret.

Honestly, would you see nothing wrong if, say, you found out that Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been funding Huffington Post since it was set up in 2005, or if the Los Angeles Times has depended for its revenues on Huawei advertisements?

To this day, the heads of the four outfits, have not justified why they have been getting funds from the US State Department. As you will see in your blog itself, they refer only to a generic “foreign funds” in its attempt to put in readers’ minds the idea that they are getting funding solely from philanthropic foundations the likes of Ford and Asia foundations, and not from a superpower.

You claimed in your blog: “Duterte’s government has since piled up lawsuits against Rappler, including a charge over foreign funding it received through depositary receipts from the US-based philanthropic investment firm, Omidyar Network, that threaten to jail its executives and revoke its operating license.”

Discipline
Shawn, it is obvious you didn’t imbibe the Review’s discipline of unveiling lies by simply doing what a reporter should do, which is to dig up facts.

There are only two serious lawsuits filed against Rappler, other than the SEC order to dissolve it for violating the constitutional ban on foreign money in equity.

One is for libel filed by a businessman for a Rappler article published back in 2012 that claimed he was a drug lord, and that he was a supporter of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, against whom former President Aquino moved heaven and earth to remove in his attempt to protect his clan’s Hacienda Luisita. The guy’s business partners left him, after reading the article, fearing Aquino would also go after them. Even as the Rappler article was totally false, it refused to delete it from the web. Do you blame the businessman for pursuing his libel suit?

The second suit demonstrates Ressa’s rank incompetence as a firm’s CEO, bordering on the hilarious. When she realized Rappler’s foreign money was in violation of the Constitution, she got the two funders to declare it as “gifts” to its managers. When the managers refused since this would entail huge gift taxes beyond their means, she got her lawyers to claim that the investments were depositary receipts, which the Salim firms used to skirt the constitutional limits.

Capital gains
Oops, the issuance of depositary receipts involved huge capital gains since a peso worth of shares at par value had to represent, say, P100 of the actual foreign money. Of course, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, as tax collectors all over the world do, read newspapers, and investigated it, concluding that Rappler owed government P170 million.

Tax collectors don’t care about politics, as long as they can report bigger revenues. If your Internal Revenue Service found that the New York Times had not paid $100 million in taxes, do you think Trump would have ordered it to back off, fearing that the Times would claim it is being harassed by the president it wants to remove?

For all her melodrama that she is being persecuted by Duterte, the charges against Ressa are so mundane — for libel of a private individual and for tax evasion.

C’mon Shawn, of all American journalists you should know what suppression in the Third World really means.

A 2002 article you wrote that included Rodney in the byline merely stated that there were “tensions between then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej.” For that, you two were officially declared by the Thai government as threats to national security and ordered deported. The Review had to apologize for that article so that the Thais would not kick you out of the country ASAP.

Rodney, who had lived in Thailand for two decades and never got into trouble despite his in-depth reporting, was distraught, and so angry at himself for letting a reporter so greenhorn and so arrogant write a sentence that angered the King, but wasn’t necessary at all to the article.

Danger to society
Thailand’s biggest newspaper in 2010, The Nation, reported your woes rather sympathetically that even at that time eight years later, you were on Thai immigration’s “fourth-level secret list,” classified as a danger to society. “This harassment of the press is extending through successive governments,” you wrote.

Has the Duterte government ordered deported a single foreign correspondent who has written such blatant lies as “27,000 killed” in the government’s war vs drugs, or even for claiming that it is systematically harassing the press?

No.

It is of course unfortunate for your career that being blacklisted by the Thai government made you unattractive for recruitment by mainstream US media to cover the country, that you had to join an NGO like CPJ. You have now become so hateful of all Asian governments, suspecting each one of them to be like the Thais in 2002.

Your blog clearly implies that I and Makabenta as well as the Manila Times are merely tools of this government to harass journalists like Ressa and the other foreign-funded media outfits.

That is a blatant lie, and a very serious affront to me and my colleagues in the Manila Times. Other than these four foreign-funded outfits, no other news entity has ever claimed that there is press suppression in this country, not even those controlled or heavily influenced by those opposing Duterte. The 40 or so editors and staff — even including their janitors — of the four foreign-funded media outfits are barely 1 percent of the 3,000 Filipino editors and reporters.

For the sake of fairness and journalistic ethics, I demand that this letter be posted in your website.

Your Committee to Protect Journalists should protect us Third World journalists from the biases and incompetence of US media, from reporters like you who are either so gullible or too lazy to do their work, that they accuse us of complicity in government’s suppression of the press.

Sincerely,
Bobi

P.S. I’ve noticed that in your blog you have reported a lot on the suppression of the press in the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, and not one regarding Thailand, which has been a military dictatorship since 2014. Yet you know the situation on the ground in Thailand as you live there. You like Bangkok a lot, don’t you?

 

 


 

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